Political prisoners, not criminals

Hurriyat activist Shahid-ul-Islam reaches home. Granting custody parole to him came like a breather. His family, friends, relatives, well wishers – temporarily though, but all feel relieved. Efforts that preceded have finally borne fruit. Those who wrote, those who spoke, those who contributed any bit from this or that side of the divide – all heave a sigh of relief. Separatism, cynicism, criticism apart, ask a hapless wife to a husband and a devastated mother to two daughters, what does it mean to see the head of her family returning home under whatever conditions and limitations.

We are not here to question the detention of pro-resistance leadership. Till you know the grounds, the nature of evidence, the strength or the weakness of the allegations and the legalities of the case thereof, any argument in support or against the prisoners will be premature. So let’s rest our case without pleading the case. But the other part merits not a pleading, but a protest.

Political prisoners are not criminals. No democratic system will allow you to treat them the way they have been treated so far. Investigations and allegations notwithstanding, but primarily the story is all political. The same constitutional and judicial system grants freedom to hold a view. The trouble erupts when a system goes against individuals and makes the battle not ideological, but personal. Then it’s not about justice, but about vengeance. Pushing the resistance leadership behind bars and subjecting them to the worst jail conditions symbolises nothing but violence. Accepted, that no state tolerates any action or any activism against it, but democracy has a role (if you really believe it exists).

Kashmir is – and has been – a case apart. The principles of justice, mercy, democracy and fairness fade when they operate here. Elsewhere your politics will be informed with a strong dissent, elsewhere people have a right to protest, elsewhere mobs take to streets, elsewhere public property is destroyed – but what happens as a sequel to all this is exclusive to Kashmir. Not to speak of the accused, even the convicts enjoy rights. And that doesn’t come as favour to them. That is what they deserve as citizens of a society. Why should every political dissent (violent or non-violent) meet the same fate. That blurs the line between armed and unarmed resistance. The blind treatment of Damned-you-do-damned-you-don’t gives the story of resistance a violent spin.

Recently the governor of the state S P Malik issued a heart-warming statement. Why doesn’t Hurriyat come forward gracefully, peacefully and talk about their problems. If he really means it, then whether Hurriyat talks or not, the fact is too loud to be ignored. Keep the cases against them as they are and see the course law takes. But till then give them a right to live with dignity. After all they are political prisoners whose stand can be contested, but whose life can’t be threatened. They may not accept the mainstream of your politics, but bring them back to the mainstream of life.